Now, of course, it is true that I have always been fascinated by Christmas Eve.
The mood of the season has always been entirely unique, but never more so than the evening of the great day itself. It has never failed to move me the way even the hardest heart could be reduced to a cheery greeting and a chorus or two of 'White Christmas', even if the heart had been softened with a liberal dousing of alcohol!
I had always been intrigued by the huddled figure dashing home with bags tucked underneath the arm, those forlorn faces pressed against cold windows on the last bus, as it winds it's way through the city to some far-flung suburb. Where were those people going? What type of Christmas could they look forward to? It intrigued me.
I had always imagined being able to transport myself so that I could experience different Christmases in every part of the world. I even thought of Christmas Day on Bondi Beach or in the African jungle, for instance - not that I wanted to try it! Oh no! England was my home and here was where I wanted to be at Christmas.
Nevertheless, for such a well seasoned voyeur such as myself it was rather odd to find myself, shortly before midnight on Christmas Eve, on the cold, misty platform of some god-forsaken British Rail outpost. It hadn't been a good year, of that I am certain, but it seemed somehow appropriate that I, a widowed man of two months and entering the 62nd year of my life, should spend his first Christmas alone at a quiet Oxfordshire hotel. Surely better to be waited upon without the worry of a well-meaning relative coming up to me and giving me that 'Hang in there, old son' look and patting me consolingly on the shoulder?. I wanted to be on my own and I didn't want the fuss of having to baste my own turkey. So what finer way for me to endure the festive season than to become one of those that I had previously watched on other, more enlightened years?
Still, Denham Green is not a station I would choose to visit on a frosty night, indeed it is not a station I would wish to grace with my presence during any rush hour. However, it seemed in keeping with the general ambiance of the year that my short stop at the welcoming 'Blue Boar' Inn should turn into a two hour delay when my car refused to start, that the breakdown service should be currently unavailable and that the local taxi cab would refuse to take me any further on my journey than the nearest railway station where, I was informed by the departing ticket office clerk, that the next, and last, train would be leaving at seven minutes past twelve.
I walked restlessly from one end of the platform to the other, stopping only to rest my small suitcase, breath onto my gloved but cold hands and listen to the echoing sound of a distant dog barking. The mist curled like fingers around the station lights and, I surmised, judging by the few lights visible from my raised position on the platform, that if I were a person of nervous disposition I could have become very frightened indeed. Fortunately, the reassuring sound of the rails echoing the rumble of the approaching train, interrupted my gloomy meandering. I glanced at the station clock and noticed that it was midnight exactly. The train was early. 'Merry Christmas', I said to myself as I climbed on.
The first carriage of the train was empty and there was no-one that I could see in the second as I entered it by the connecting door. I had always found myself more comfortable by being toward the rear of the train so I decided to make my way into the third carriage. I was marginally surprised as I entered, however, to see that I had arrived in an entirely different type of rolling stock and this coach had a corridor running the length of it with separate compartments alongside.
Thoughts of early black and white films that I had so loved when I was younger came to my mind as I admired the style of the carriage. I could not really call myself a train enthusiast but, like most older men, memories of my childhood had a soothing effect on me. Indeed, the last time I had seen such a carriage was on an Eastern Railways Steam anniversary trip that I had taken with my wife some years earlier. Buoyed with such warming thoughts, I gratefully pulled open one of the compartment doors and settled myself into a seat by the window.
The lights of Denham Green station had long faded into the distance, when I was startled by the compartment door sliding open whereupon a beautiful woman, whom I would have judged to be about thirty, entered. She gave me a brief smile which she accentuated by dipping her head slightly to one side. Her reddish hair tumbled about her shoulders and, despite myself, I felt a brief flutter in my stomach as I considered how attractive she was. I nodded a greeting, wished my new companion Seasons Greetings and turned to look out of the window.
I closed my eyes for a time, my mind briefly dwelling on my recently deceased wife before I made the mental effort to dispel my gloomy thoughts. I forced myself to resist sleep and to continue my Christmas vigil from the window but, on opening my eyes, saw in the reflection that the woman was looking at me. "You're sad", she said. Her voice betraying the unmistakable timbre of a Northumbrian accent. I smiled briefly. "Well, it's Christmas, a time for reflection and recollection". I briefly recounted my story of the broken car, embellishing it with some pointed observations on unscrupulous taxi drivers, but trailed off as I noticed that she seemed not to be listening.
There was silence for a moment before I began again. "Going home for Christmas are you?". When she didn't answer, I tried again. "Where are you going to? Oxford?" . This time she smiled again. "Don't worry, you'll see her again soon". I nodded. Trust me, I thought. Christmas Eve Last train - It's the Revellers Express. I'll have a glass of whatever she's drunk, I thought to myself. I turned to the window and closed my eyes. Despite myself, I must have dozed because I first felt the cold draft before I heard the noise of the door sliding. I turned quickly but only saw the door ajar.
I was deeply upset when I heard about her death. For a young and beautiful woman to waste her life like that is tragic. Several people had seen her jump from the speeding train as it approached Denham Green station and the service was delayed by over an hour while the police searched for her body. In fact, according to the reports, the train didn't arrive in the station until one o'clock that Christmas morning. The old porter who took my bags at the hotel was both fascinated and deeply shocked by my recounting of the journey, as an old steam train enthusiast he know that the line had all new rolling stock and the last compartmented carriage had run in 1962. He seemed to remember a similar incident one Christmas Eve years ago when he was a younger man but the details eluded him and, for myself, I thought I knew what they were anyway.
As for me - well, yes, I did have a pleasant Christmas but, let's just say that I'm not making too many plans for next year. I'm just waiting now. After all, I'll see her soon....